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For more than a century, Portland's historic Union Station has been a central hub of transportation for the ever-growing metropolis that was founded just 150 years ago. Early Portland flourished in the mid-nineteenth century due to a location where wood-planked farm-to-market roads connected rich valley farmlands to a growing port at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. By the 1870s, the arrival of the railroads further bolstered Portland's role as a transportation hub, as the only sea-level route through the Cascade Range was constructed through the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland.

By the late-nineteenth century, Portland had ballooned to more than 50,000 residents, with a busy port that exported timber, lumber, farm produce and livestock to other West Coast cities and the rest of the world. The rail yards for the port were clustered just north of town, and as passenger travel by train became more popular in the late 1880s, Portlanders began to plan an ambitious new passenger station. In 1895 the City constructed the grand new train station that was to become the heart of the region's rail system.


Union Station was dedicated on February 14, 1896. It was built in the Italian Renaissance style, in a graceful curve that faced downtown. It was easily the finest rail station in the West, and was constructed in an elegant blend of brick, stucco and sandstone. The total project cost $300,000. Central to the station design was the 150-foot clock tower, which was later modified to include the neon "Go By Train" signs that are a familiar Portland icon today. The old, wooden station that had previously served the City was unceremoniously torn down.

In over a century of operation, Union Station has seen the freight operations that once surrounded it gradually move north and across the Willamette River, along with the major river terminals. Today, the station continues to serve as a busy passenger rail and inter-city bus hub, but is now surrounded by the lofts and townhouses of the trendy Pearl and River districts. In the mid-1980s, the Portland Development Commission assumed ownership of Union Station, and a much needed, decade-long renovation began.

In the 1990s, the transit mall was extended north along Fifth and Sixth avenues, connecting Union Station to the downtown transit spine. Plans call for linking the station to the region's MAX light rail line in the future, and Union Station will also be Portland's stop on the planned Cascadia high speed rail route, which will stretch from Eugene to Vancouver B.C. Still, in a recent decision on a nearby development proposal, the Portland has demonstrated that the station will be protected for its unique landmark status, despite the rapid pace of change around the site.

In 1996, the newly-renovated structure was rededicated, marking its 100th Anniversary and an emerging role as a civic center for the rapidly growing neighborhoods that now surround the station. In addition to the ticket counters, passenger waiting areas and sandwich and souvenir shops, the station houses the landmark Wilfs restaurant and lounge. With its Victorian red-flocked walls, piano bar, "honest bartender and good food", it has drawn an eclectic crowd for lunch, dinner and evening drinks for most of the past century. The Portland Development Commission has leased other space in the station to small vendors, and plans to expand other retail services, including a grocery, aimed at the growing number residents living near the station.

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